Last year John Howard released his Night Mail album (in my top five of LPs of last year) to much acclaim. With the ultra talented Gare Du Nord team as his own mini ‘Wrecking Crew’ Howard recorded a collection of tunes rooted in late 60s and early 70s pop, full of killer hooks, sassy lyrics and unexpected, and rather delightful, instrumental interludes.
Yet anyone expecting something similar from his new album Across The Door Sill is in for a serious shock. GDN’s Ian Button may be on production duties, but this is largely a solo album with the man and his piano recorded in his home studio
Also it only boast five songs, and just one, Pigs ‘n’ Pies, comes in at under five minutes.
Not surprisingly then Across The Door Sill is an album that takes a bit of getting used to. The opener Who Cares meanders in for a minute or so before Howard’s stunning vocal (he sounds consistently amazing on the album) takes over. It seems to float by like an extended version of one of the more ambitious, but still very ‘easy style’ tunes that Scott Walker placed on his late 60s album.
To be honest, like much of the album it takes about four plays to sink in. After that it starts to wheel you into the point where it becomes ever so addictive.
If anything track two Outward is even more prosaic. It drifts in slowly with a golden vocal accompanied by a gently, tinkling piano. Yet the sheer beauty of the vocal and the melody carries it through. Outward might just be one of the best songs Howard has ever written. I’d love to hear a shorter punchier version though.
Pigs ‘n’ Pies is the nearest Door Sill gets to the Night Mail album bearing the usual Howard hallmarks of a big chorus, unexpected time and chord changes in the verse, and a stunning vocal.
But for me it is the grand finale that makes this album special. Stretching Out might extend to almost ten minutes, but it flashes by in what seems like three. It gently builds to a glorious climax when, after about six minutes, Howard’s double tracked vocal takes over. It really is quite sublime.
Taken as a whole this a fascinating, beautiful, yet ultimately rather challenging album. You have to be prepared to invest a little time to get the best from it. I find myself a little conflicted by it. I would love to hear a three minute edited version of Outward but at the same time I really could listen to a twenty minute version of Stretching out.
Buy the CD/Vinyl/Mp3s here.